From Writers Helping Writers:
When I think about some of my favorite protagonists, I can usually identify a trait that defines each one:
Sam Gamgee: Loyalty
Anne Shirley: Impulsivity
James T. Kirk: Boldness
However, if each character was made up of only that one trait, they probably wouldn’t make many “favorites” lists because they’d be paper-thin—caricatures, rather than characters with depth and nuance. Real people are complicated and deep, embodying more than one quality. And so must our characters be if they’re going to draw readers in through authenticity and relatability.
However, by including too many traits, you run the risk of creating a character who’s all over the map and doesn’t ring true. So how do we create multi-dimensional characters who make sense to readers? For simplicity’s sake, I’d like to focus today on how to accomplish this in regards to a character’s positive attributes (although this process also apply to flaws).
First, identify your character’s positive traits. Though there could be dozens, narrow the list down to the dominant ones—no more than five or six. Let’s use our beloved Captain Kirk as an example.
Along with boldness, he also exemplifies loyalty, daring, decisiveness, extroversion, and charm. But focusing on so many traits can make for a scattered character with hard-to-define motivations and emotions. To avoid this, look at your short list of traits and determine which is your character’s primary one. This is the attribute that will drive his choices. It is often also tied to his moral and ethical beliefs, his sense of right, wrong, duty, and worth.
. . . .
Once you’ve figured out your character’s primary attribute, show that trait to the reader. Whenever your hero is faced with a choice, that trait should push him to a decision.
Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers